“The emergence of a Continental Union Government for Africa will immediately make the independent states of Africa a mighty world influence.”
Kwame Nkrumah was a Pan-Africanist, an anti-imperialist and a Marxist-socialist and the first President of the Republic of Ghana. He was born at Nkroful in the Western Region and was named as Francis Nwia-Kofi. He was the only child of her mother, Nyanibah although his father, Opanin Kofi Nwiana Ngolomah, had many children from other wives. He officially changed his name in 1945 to Kwame Nkrumah.
In 1909 when Nkrumah was born, Gold Coast (now Ghana) was still a British colony and living conditions for Africans were similar to other colonial territories. At that time, many communities including Nkroful lacked health and educational facilities, proper housing and transport system. There was no pipe-borne water and people had to travel on rudimentary roads to fetch water in pots and pails from nearest sources. At three years old, when Nwia-Kofi, together with his mother, had to join his father who was a goldsmith working at Half-Assini, the journey had to be on foot since there were no buses or lorry transport. It took Nwia-Kofi and almost three days, spending nights in the open, beside a fire lit to scare wild animals away. In his book “Africa must Unite” Dr. Nkrumah described the environmental and socio-economic conditions of the colonies as:
‘The failure to promote the interests of our people was due to the insatiable demands of colonial exploitation. However wise, enlightened and good-hearted certain individual officers may have been, their functions and authority fitted into a pattern of colonial administration itself conditioned by the central and overall need to extract the riches of the colonies and transfer them overseas. If in the process it was necessary to build some roads, to construct a harbor and to educate some Africans, well and good. The point I want is that any welfare activity for the benefit of our people was little more than incidental.”
Kwame Nkrumah had his primary and elementary school education at a Roman Catholic School and then went on to train as a teacher at Government Training College in Accra where Dr. Kwegyir Aggrey was the Assistant Vice Principal. He had his higher education in Lincoln and Pennsylvania Universities of America where he studied economics, sociology, theology, education and philosophy.
Kwame Nkrumah’s interest in politics was firmly established when Dr Aggrey introduced him to the works of W.E.B. DuBois and Marcus Garvey. Nkrumah later came into contact with the anti-colonial newspaper articles of such activists as Nnamdi Azikiwe of the African Morning Post and Wallace Johnson; editor of the African Sentinel. He gained further inspiration from the activities of the National Congress of British West Africa (NCBWA). While in the United States, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah played a major role in the Pan African conference held in the New York in 1944. After leaving the United States, he organised the 5th Pan-African Congress in Manchester, England, alongside George Padmore in 1945. Then, he began to network through organisations like West African Students’ Union and the West African National Secretariat.
Kwame Nkrumah returned to Ghana in December 1947 following an invitation from the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) to become its General Secretary. Under his leadership, Nkrumah transformed the urban-based elitist UGCC into a mass based political movement within two years; attracting the generality of the youth, landless farmers, women, students, ex-servicemen and the labour unions. By 1949, he split from the UGCC to form the Convention Peoples’ Party (CPP).
Dr. Kwame Nkrumah was a nationalist and visionary leader par excellence. Following the formation of the CPP, he advocated for constitutional changes which included self-government now, universal franchise without property qualifications and unitarianism as opposed to federalism. Kwame Nkrumah was incarcerated by the colonial administration in 1950 for his political activism. He was released in 1951 after the CPP’s 1951 election swap to become the leader of Government Business.
As a devout Pan-Africanist and internationalist, he declared at the eve of Ghana’s independence on 6th March 1957 that, “the independence of Ghana is meaningless until it is linked with the total liberation of West Africa”. Kwame Nkrumah played a pivotal role in the formation and development of the organization of African Unity in 1963. Under his leadership, the OAU (now African Union) played a leading role during the African decolonization period.
He advocated for African federation under the auspices of United States of Africa and gave life to the idea by entering into a joint agreement with Ahmed Sekou Toure of Guinea, and Modibo Keita of Mali to establish the Ghana- Guinea-Mali Union also known as the Union of African States. He also signed a secret agreement with the then Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Patrice Lumumba, to establish the Ghana-DRC Union in August 1960. Again, Nkrumah promoted a national and Pan-African culture through the medium of the African Personality.
Nkrumah was a personification of African Unity and the New Emerging Africa. Before the propagation of the last Assembly of the Gold Coast on the eve of Independence, he had this to say in a major policy statement:
“…The government hopes that, as a free, sovereign and independent state, Ghana can become the centre for the discussion of African problems as a whole…Our aim is to work with others to achieve an African Personality in African affairs.”
He worked closely with African intellectuals from the diaspora including W.E.B. Du Bois, Martin Luther King Jr. and Marcus Mosiah Garvey and as a Marxist-Leninist, Kwame Nkrumah was influenced by C.L.R. James of Trinidad, Raya Dunayevskaya of Russia and Chinese American Grace Lee Boggs. As a revolutionary and socialist, Kwame Nkrumah developed a strong national education system and also established national industrial and energy projects.
Kwame Nkrumah was an intellectual and authored several books. In 1941, he published his first article in Penn’s Educational Outlook titled “Primitive Education in West Africa.” In that article, Nkrumah posited that traditional educational institutions of Africa did conform to the prevailing educational theories of the mid-20th Century. He surmised that,
“…the education of a child is largely a process of acquiring, in the first place, conditioned reflexes, and then the more permanent associations and systems of conditioned reflexes that we call habits. The leaders of primitive West Africa, for a long time, consciously or unconsciously, have been aware of this psychological fact.”
He did observe in that article that although in the early learning process African teachers rightly understood the importance of early childhood and thus began education at a very young age through integration of infant welfare and schooling, these laudable traditional educational institutions become destroyed under the colonial project leaving the African child not efficiently “prepared for the activities of life”.
His other article published in the Penn’s Educational Outlook in 1943 titled “Educational Nationalism in Africa” revealed the extent to which Kwame Nkrumah was already developing the Pan-Africanist challenge to colonialism. In this article, he presented a focused discussion of the tensions between European colonial rule, education, and national emancipation. After noting that their Eurocentric curricula deliberately excluded African religion, culture and history, Nkrumah opined that,
“…under such a system of education the youth of Africa is not prepared to meet any definite situations of the changing community except those of colonial activities and the occupations for foreign commercial and mercantile concerns.”
Among the 30 distinct works which Dr. Kwame Nkrumah authored include “Africa Must Unite”, “Towards Colonial Freedom”, “Class Struggle in Africa”, “Challenge of the Congo”, “Handbook on Revolutionary Warfare”, “Neocolonialism, The Last Stage of Imperialism” and “Dark Days in Ghana”.
He was anti-colonialist and fighter for world peace and social progress. All his life, Nkrumah worked hard “to examine the central problem which dominates the world…namely the problem of how to secure peace.” It was therefore not surprising when on his way to Hanoi at the invitation of President Ho Chi Minh with proposals for ending the war and secure peace in North Vietnam, he was overthrown by backward forces of social progress and development in collusion with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the United States. Until his overthrow on 24th February 1966, Kwame Nkrumah was an ardent supporter of the United Nations as a useful instrument for harmonizing the policies of states and for promotion of peace and mutual understanding among the nations of the world.
Kwame Nkrumah was anti-tribalist and non-racial. In his “Motion of Destiny” speech on 10th July 1953, he had this to say:
“…Independence is not an end in itself, but a means to an end… The building of a good life to the benefit of all, regardless of tribe, creed, colour or station in life.”
He did not only emerge as the African voice in the United Nations Organization but also never saw Afro-Asian solidarity “as a racial alignment”. In his opening address to the 4th Afro-Asian Solidarity Conference held in Winneba, Ghana, in May 1965, he reminded delegates that economic exploitation and not racism or racialism was at the root of the problems of Afro-Asian nations. This is what he had to say:
“We are neither racists nor racialists although we happen to be non-White in over-whelming numbers on these two continents. We are not here because we come from Africa and Asia, but because we belong to that part of the human race whose hands have been colonized and whose freedom was taken away by the imperialists…We are here because we are resolved that any system or regime which owes its existence to the exploitation of man, cannot and must not be permitted to continue its existence in the world.”
By Kafui Kan-Senaya
Esther Charis Yiadom
- http://www.blackhistoryheroes.com/2010/09/kwame -nkrumah.html
- June Milne (2000): Kwame Nkrumah: A Biography, Panaf Books, 75 Weston Street, London SE1 3RS, ISBN:0901787566